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Faculty & Staff Honors

Washington Faculty Receives EPA Grant to Help Develop Low-Cost Sensors for Wood Smoke

Dr. Catherine Karr of the University of Washington School of Public Health received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop low-cost air pollution sensors in rural Washington state. The devices will help Native American and Latino communities in the Yakima Valley reduce their exposure to wood smoke.

Catherine Karr
[Photo: Dr. Catherine Karr]

Funds from the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program will help researchers use next-generation air particle sensors that are portable and battery-powered. Researchers will work with local students over the next three years to both understand and help reduce the community’s exposure to wood smoke.

“We will work with the community, including Heritage University, the Yakama Nation and area high schools, putting new low cost air pollution sensors to work to understand areas of concern and opportunities to improve local air quality,” said Dr. Karr, professor of pediatrics and environmental and occupational health sciences. “The project builds on longstanding research to action partnerships between the University of Washington Pacific Northwest Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (PNASH) and the Yakima Valley community.”

The project will build on the EnvironMentors program, which pairs upper level undergraduates with high school students. Students will disseminate the findings to their families, elders and other community members.

In winter, Dr. Karr said, widespread biomass burning for residential heating combined with days of stagnant weather contribute to high air pollution in the region. “Forest fires and agricultural burning may contribute in other seasons,” she said.

Researchers hope to identify hot spots for pollution and explore trends over time and their impact on public health.

While recent advances in technology have led to the development of low-cost air pollution sensors, they have not been tested widely, especially in the field, according to the EPA. This and other STAR grants will help scientists compare the accuracy of data from new sensors with data from existing monitoring technology used to support air-quality recommendations.

STAR grants were also awarded to Carnegie Mellon University, Kansas State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Research Triangle Institute, and the South Coast Air Quality Management District and University of California, Los Angeles.

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